The fourth Sunday of Advent we have Stories and Music for Christmas, favourite carols and stories about Christmas. Not necessarily the Christmas story itself, but stories that help to reveal what "The Story" is all about.
Yes, by the way, I acknowledge it's still Advent. I grew up in a tradition that emphasized the importance of Advent and held off the rush to Christmas stuff until it's time and there are moments when I remember how important that is - to take the time, I mean. But our stories are told to be heard and to be understood and, hopefully, to speak to us in a way that brings meaning to our lives.
That's the thing about "traditions." I'm sure I'm not the first person to point out that a "tradition" isn't something that you do every year or over and over again just because "we've always done it that way," because it's easier to just re-do it the same way or because "people expect it." Frankly, that's just doing something that way because "you've always done it that way." It's not a tradition.
Something becomes a tradition because it continues to have something to say, it continues to be meaningful, it still communicates a message.
That's why I love Christmas Pageants, especially ones with children. It's a real tradition. The story itself has meaning, but put it in the hands of children and it can take you places. Tell the story live, when anything can happen, and something will happen.
I'm writing this before this year's pageant, so I'm not really sure how it's going to go. The plan is for everyone - that's everyone - to come in costume or find one, or even a hat, amongst the ones we'll have available and put yourself in the scene that the narrator will be describing. You could be "on stage" or in your seat, a key character, a shepherd, an angel, a stable animal or even a curious onlooker. But you're in it. That's the point. If you were in the story, how would you come to the manger?
Now make the story part of your life and wonder about this: how do you - the true you, the you God knows - how do you come to the manger? What does this mean to you?
I don't know how it's going to go. I'm pretty sure it'll be an adventure, though. But I've mentioned two words that I know will be key, because I think they're key to how we come to Christmas: expectation and wonder.
Jesus is expected. Sure, but when? How? Despite the constant reminders of Advent that we be prepared precisely because we don't know when or how, we have expectations about that, don't we? We also have expectations that need to be met about how this Christmas will look, what will happen, who's coming for dinner, what we're having, what gifts we might receive. But the Christmas story is full of the unexpected. Mary didn't expect what happened, Joseph sure didn't, the shepherds were surprised, Herod was nervous and you can bet the magi wondered what kind of king was the son of poor people. The only constant in the story seems to be the words "don't be afraid."
And that's where the wonder comes in. Don't be afraid of the unexpected in the Christmas story. Wonder at how an angel might bring a message from God. Wonder at how that message might be for those who, on the surface, seem the least deserving. Wonder at how the creator of all things might choose to come to us as a weak, fragile, needy baby. Wonder at how that was revealed to those wise enough to see. Wonder at what this birth might mean to you.